Sifting through all the flotsam which inevitably clutters my social media newsfeed, I have come across a thought-provoking quote by Sister Joan Chittister, an American Benedictine nun, theologian and author, in which she says,
I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
This quote is from an interview Chittister did back in 2004, but which is even more relevant today, fifteen years later. Here in Malta, wading through the pro-choice versus the pro-life debate is like swimming upstream in hot treacle – exhausting but pointless. Like many other issues; politics or religion, the rhetoric turns harsh and passionate while emotional dissonance takes over, with both sides consequently missing the woods for the trees. While people fight over this hot issue, call each other names and struggle to establish the superiority of their argument, the tendency is to forget what lies at the core of this debate. Beyond the righteousness and vitriol, we tend to forget that this is about people – living, breathing human beings, whose needs we neglect and deny.
But back to the pro-life argument. Being anti-abortion does not qualify anyone as being pro-life. The difference between the two is monumental. While the lobby which purports to be ‘pro-life’ actively protests indiscriminately against any legislation in favour of abortion, it conveniently forgets about the lives of women who seek it, regardless of whether these are endangered or not. Is this what pro-life means? It also conveniently forgets the quality of life of non-viable babies who are born with significant ‘lethal’ malformations or significant genetic issues which cannot be treated.
Even more troubling is the ‘pro-life’ lobby’s nonchalant stance in using the ‘adoption’ argument. It claims that unwanted babies can always be put up for adoption as an alternative to abortion, as if babies are some form of commodity which can be traded at will. Have they no compassion? It’s as if signing away your child to a stranger, is indeed not a tragedy, with lifelong consequences which will not only traumatise the biological mother for life, but also the child in question. The story of a mother who has willingly given up her child, without knowing of its whereabouts and can claim that she can sleep well at night, has yet to surface. Thousands of women have paid for their good intentions with their mental health for years on end. Is this what being pro-life is all about? What kind of life is it, when you sentence a woman to a life of shame and sorrow? And yet adoption is cited as a viable alternative!
But what really irks about all this, is the fact that for ‘pro-lifers’, the crusade begins with pregnancy and ends with birth. The wellbeing of a foetus is ever more important than the welfare of a live baby. Who cares if an unplanned pregnancy results in an unwanted baby? Who cares if this baby is neglected, abused, abandoned or simply not accepted? Not the ‘pro-life’ lobby for sure. Or should that read ‘pro-birth’? Because as yet I still have to personally come a across a ‘pro-lifer’ who offers to foster or adopt such children just for this reason (unless they are childless, which is another story altogether) or even volunteers to work towards the wellbeing of abandoned or unwanted children. I would think that to run true to form, a real pro-lifer, one who believes that ‘all’ of life is sacred, even the one beyond the womb, would actively dedicate his/her life for the care of an unwanted child. Instead, they expend time, energy and resources in protesting and condemning those who do not agree with them.
What is even more dehumanising, is the despicable argument being bandied about by this same lobby, that where abortion is concerned, Malta should remain out of bounds. In other words, those who want to terminate a pregnancy for whatever reason, should resort to clinics abroad. A fine argument indeed, which paints a fake picture of women who resort to abortion. It’s as if to say that women who find themselves pregnant, nonchalantly wake up one morning and say, “Hey abortion’s available. Let me book a flight and have one of that!” This argument only drives home the fact that less privileged women and even more tragically, women in poverty, who have no means to go abroad, have no alternative to their predicament except to resort to backstreet butchers. The ‘pro-life’ lobby did not create these criminals, but they are certainly facilitating their existence.
To stand up for your beliefs should be admired. But to do so without taking into consideration the needs or experiences of others is only a self-serving, hypocritical and short-sighted exercise in vanity. No one in their right mind would be pro-abortion, no one would simply resort to abortion just because it’s available, so before we batten the hatches and once again prepare for attack, let us all try to understand and empathise with those women who for whatever reason do resort to a termination, and however impossible it might seem, try for a moment to walk in their shoes.
Unless we can do this successfully, unless we can show compassion and stop once and for all the shaming of these women, we can never move forward and have a healthy debate about something that regardless of the vociferous opposition, has happened, is happening and will still be happening within our shores, whether we choose to believe it or not…
Opinion. Giselle Scicluna